Facts about Farkleberry – Vaccinium arboreum

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Farkleberry Quick Facts
Name: Farkleberry
Scientific Name: Vaccinium arboreum
Origin Central Florida westward to central Oklahoma, southeastern Missouri, southeastern Kansas, and the Edwards Plateau of Texas
Colors Initially green and slowly turn darker until they are a deep blue to black
Shapes Black, lustrous, globose berry 0.2 to 0.4 inch (5-9 mm) in diameter.
Flesh colors Dry, hard, and mealy
Taste Sweet to sour
Health benefits Beneficial for diarrhea, dysentery, sore throats, chronic ophthalmia, leucorrhoea and many more
Vaccinium arboretum commonly known as Farkleberry is a large, much-branched tree belonging to Ericaceae (Heath family).  Historically Farkleberries cousins include blueberry, bilberry, huckleberries and more distantly cranberries.  Other medicinal plants in this family include uva ursi and madrone.  All of these plants tend to have astringency. The plant is native to central Florida westward to central Oklahoma, southeastern Missouri, southeastern Kansas, and the Edwards Plateau of Texas. It extends northward to southern Illinois, southern Indiana, and Virginia. Farkleberry, Sparkleberry, Winter huckleberry, Tree sparkleberry, Tree-huckleberry, tree whortleberry, winter whortleberry and Missouri farkleberry are few of the well-known common names of the plant. The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials. The tree usually flowers abundantly and is sometimes grown as an ornamental.

The species name, arboreum, stems from the Latin root “arbor,” meaning “a tree,” because it is the only North American member of the Vaccinium genus that reaches a size comparable to that of a tree. The common name sparkleberry began to show up in the literature by 1891 and was given to the plant because of its rather shiny berries. The common name farkleberry is supposed to be a misinterpretation of the word sparkleberry.

Farkleberry Facts

Name Farkleberry
Scientific Name Vaccinium arboreum
Native Central Florida westward to central Oklahoma, southeastern Missouri, southeastern Kansas, and the Edwards Plateau of Texas. It extends northward to southern Illinois, southern Indiana, and Virginia
Common Names Farkleberry, Sparkleberry, Winter huckleberry, Tree sparkleberry, Tree-huckleberry, tree whortleberry, winter whortleberry, Missouri farkleberry
Name in Other Languages English: Farkleberry, Sparkleberry, Winter huckleberry, Tree sparkleberry, Tree-huckleberry, tree whortleberry, winter whortleberry, Missouri farkleberry,
French: Airelle en arbre, myrtillier en arbre
German: Schweinsbeere
Italian: Mirtillo arboreo
Plant Growth Habit Large, stiff-branched, evergreen or persistent-leaved, upright shrub or small tree
Growing Climates Grows on sand dunes, hammocks, granitic outcrops, dry sterile hillsides, rocky woods, abandoned fields, meadows, wet bottomlands, along creek banks, coastal plain, in Piedmont, Moist sandy soils by ponds and streams, stream banks, bluffs, rocky ledges, rocky canyons, rocky ravines, rocky bluffs, sandstone glades, barren upland savannas, sand dunes, sandy savannas, pinelands, thickets, clearings, fields, coastal scrub forests, wooded streams
Soil Found growing on moist, acid, sandy, well-drained soils
Plant Size 3–5 m (7.5-12.5 feet) rarely 9 m) (22.5 feet) tall, with a diameter at breast height of up to 35 cm (14 inches)
Bark Outer bark is gray to grayish-brown, thin, and smooth, with narrow ridges
Twigs Slender, rigid twigs are reddish-brown to reddish-green or gray, and glaucous, glabrous, or glandular-pubescent
Leaf Simple, alternate leaves are coriaceous, glabrous, and lustrous above. The lower surface is glaucous, duller green, and often glandular-pubescent.  Leaves are obovate to elliptic, approximately 1 to 3 inches (3-8 cm) in length with entire or obscurely denticulate margins
Flowering season July to August
Flower Showy, white to pinkish flowers of farkleberry grow in abundance.  The perfect flowers are borne in leafy-bracted racemes or panicles that average 0.8 to 2.7 inches (2-7 cm) in length
Fruit Shape & Size Black, lustrous, globose berry 0.2 to 0.4 inch (5-9 mm) in diameter. Berries are sweet but dry, hard, and mealy
Fruit Color Initially green and slowly turn darker until they are a deep blue to black
Propagation By seed, also propagated by softwood and hardwood cuttings
Seed 8 to 10 stony, shiny, black to golden-brown seeds.  The variously-shaped, deeply pitted seeds average 0.08 inch (2 mm) in length
Taste Sweet to sour in taste
Season September to October

Plant Description

Farkleberry is a large, stiff-branched, evergreen or persistent-leaved, upright shrub or small tree that normally grows about 3–5 m (7.5-12.5 feet) tall, with a diameter at breast height of up to 35 cm (14 inches).  However, on favorable sites, plants may grow to 33 feet (10 m) with a d.b.h. of up to 14 inches (35 cm).  Record trees have been measured at 64 feet (19 m) in height with circumferences of up to 116 inches (45.9 cm).  Farkleberry is the only member of the Vaccinium genus to reach tree size.  The plant is found growing on sand dunes, hammocks, granitic outcrops, dry sterile hillsides, rocky woods, abandoned fields, meadows, wet bottomlands, along creek banks, coastal plain, in piedmont, moist sandy soils by ponds and streams, stream banks, bluffs, rocky ledges, rocky canyons, rocky ravines, rocky bluffs, sandstone glades, barren upland savannas, sand dunes, sandy savannas, pine lands, thickets, clearings, fields, coastal scrub forests and wooded streams. The plant prefers moist, acid, sandy and well-drained soils.

Trunk

The trunk bark is brown, gray, or red, or some combination these colors; it is thin and susceptible to shredding. Branches and older twigs are gray and relatively smooth, while young twigs are reddish brown. Branches and twigs of this shrub are often bent. Young shoots are light green to reddish green and usually pubescent, otherwise they are glabrous. The wood is brown to reddish-brown, fine-grained, tough and hard.  Wood weighs an average of 48 pounds per cubic foot (112 kg/cu m).  It was previously used to make various tool handles and craft items.

Leaves

Leaves are deciduous but can exhibit more evergreen characteristics in the warmer climates of its southern range. Leaves of farkleberry are variable in size, shape, and persistence. The simple, alternate leaves occur along the young twigs and shoots. These leaves are 1-3 inches in length and ½-1½ inches across, and somewhat leathery in texture. They are ovate, obovate, or broadly elliptic in shape, while their margins are smooth (entire) or minutely serrated. The leaf tips are either rounded or taper abruptly to blunt points, while the leaf bases are usually wedge-shaped. Leaf venation is pinnate; the secondary veins are widely separated and relatively sparse across the leaf surface. The upper leaf surface is medium green, glabrous, and somewhat shiny, while the lower leaf surface is pale green and glabrous to finely pubescent (fine hairs are most likely to occur along the central veins of the leaves). The leaves often become red or purplish red during the winter.

Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics Broad leaf Evergreen
Leaf Color Green, Red/Burgundy
Leaf Feel Glossy, Leathery
Leaf Value To Gardener Showy
Deciduous Leaf Fall Color Red/Burgundy
Leaf Type Simple
Leaf Arrangement Alternate
Leaf Shape Elliptical
Leaf Margin Entire
Hairs Present Yes
Leaf Length 1-3 inches
Leaf Width 1-3 inches

 

Flowers

The showy, white to pinkish flowers of farkleberry grow in abundance.  The perfect flowers are borne in leafy-bracted racemes or panicles that average 0.8 to 2.7 inches (2-7 cm) in length. Inflorescences typically occur on second year growth. The central stalks of these racemes are light green and finely pubescent, while the pedicels are about ½ inches long, light green, and glabrous. Each flower is about ¼ inches long and similarly across, consisting of a short calyx with 5 broad teeth. Bell-shaped corolla is nearly globoid in shape, 10 inserted stamens, and a pistil with a single style. The calyx is light green and glabrous, while the corolla is usually white (less often pinkish white). The corolla also has 5 small lobes along its outer rim that are recurved. In addition to the flowers, the racemes have leafy to scale-like bracts that are less than 1 inch in length. The blooming period occurs from July to August for about 3 weeks.

Flower Color White
Flower Inflorescence Raceme
Flower Value To Gardener: Fragrant
Flower Bloom Time Spring

Summer

Flower Shape Bell
Flower Size < 1 inch

 

Fruits

Later, fertile flowers are replaced by lustrous, globoid berries about 0.2 to 0.4 inch (5-9 mm) in diameter at maturity during the late summer or fall. Fruits are initially green turning to black and shiny berries when ripe, often persisting into the winter. The interior of the berries is mealy and dry, varying in flavor from bitter to sweet. Each berry consists of 8- 10 seeds. The seeds are stony, shiny, and black to golden brown colored. The variously-shaped, deeply pitted seeds average 0.08 inch (2 mm) in length.

Fruit Color

 

Black

Purple/Lavender

Fruit Value To Gardener

 

Showy
Display/Harvest Time Fall
Fruit Type Berry
Fruit Length < 1 inch
Fruit Width < 1 inch

 

Traditional uses and benefits of Farkleberry

  • Berries, root-bark and leaves are very astringent and have been used internally in the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery etc.
  • The infusion is valuable in treating sore throats, chronic ophthalmia, leucorrhoea etc.
  • Extracts obtained from roots were traditionally used to treat diarrhea.
  • Extracts of the leaves have been used to treat sore throats and loose stools.
  • Juice from berries has also been used to treat recurring cases of dysentery.

Other Facts

  • Plant is said to be an excellent root stock for ‘Rabbiteye’ blueberries.
  • Tannin is obtained from the bark and root.
  • Wood is heavy, hard, very close grained and is used for making tool handles and other small articles.
  • Farkleberry bark was formerly used in tanning leathers.
  • Berries of farkleberry are inedible to humans.
  • Flowers are a good source of nectar for foraging honey bees.
  • Record trees have been measured at 64 feet (19 m) in height with circumferences of up to 116 inches (45.9 cm).
  • The wood has been used for tobacco pipes, woodenware, and novelties.

Culinary Uses

  • Fruit can be consumed raw or cooked, it is dry and slightly astringent but with a pleasant flavor.
  • Historically the berries were used in pies and jellies.

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=23580#null

https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxonomydetail.aspx?id=40984

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Vaccinium+arboreum

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/VACAR

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=VAAR

https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/vacarb/all.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaccinium_arboreum

https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=vaar

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fr320

http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/tro-12302743

https://www.augustaga.gov/1634/Sparkleberry

https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/55997

https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/31655/#b

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